When I first came to México in January of 1999 I lived in the parish house of the Catholic Church of San Juan Bautista in a small town on the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo León. I lived with two priests at their invitation because there was really no other place for me to stay. In exchange for my room and board I contributed the groceries and I taught English to some of the parishioners and to their children. The names of the priests were Padre Umberto Torrez Hernández and his newly ordained assistant, Padre Joel Avila Negrete. They were the only two priests for about 50,000 people and the territory of the parish is quite large. Sometimes I went with the priests in an old battered pickup truck to the “ejidos” which are small villages on communal farms way out in the rural areas which are mostly desert. The people are very poor and they sustain themselves as best they can by raising goats which feed on whatever living green thing that they can find. Roast goat is a very popular dish in Monterrey restaurants. The dish is called “cabrito” and it takes only about 120 days from the time a little goat is born until it is killed and skinned and split open and put spread eagled on a roasting rack.
One of the things that struck me the most is the abject poverty of the people. They live in little huts that are made of sticks and whatever things they can scavenge and you can actually see right through their homes. The little kids run around barefoot and almost naked and yet they seem to be mostly happy and quick to smile. One day we came to the limit of the parish boundary which was marked by a railroad track. We crossed over the track because Padre Humberto and his counterpart at the neighboring parish looked after the boundary area between the parishes in a cooperative effort. As we crossed the tracks I noticed that some workers were installing blue fiber optic cable along the railroad right-of-way. When I asked Padre Umberto about it he told me that it was for the Internet. When he told me that I was taken aback because the people who lived along the right-of-way didn’t even have electricity, not to mention running water, and there was little hope of them getting any in the foreseeable future. The nearest telephone was about twenty miles away. These people had the pulse of modern communication, knowledge, and technology running less than a meter beneath their feet and yet they had no access to it and wouldn’t know what to do with it even if they did. Such is real poverty.
There are still about 40 million people in México who live in dire poverty. They are mostly invisible, however, unless you go out and look for them. I am not talking about your average city beggar or even people who live in small rundown brick and adobe houses. I am talking about people who live in cardboard and stick huts who get wet whenever it rains and shiver at night with the cold and who go to bed at least a little bit hungry every day. In the state of Guanajuato where I live, according to government sources there are currently 353, 000 workers who earn less than 47 pesos per day. That is about four dollars and twenty five cents. There are another 425,000 workers who make between 47 and 95 pesos per day or up to eight dollars and fifty cents per day. Where do they live? There are about 500 shanty towns in the state with about 37,000 dwellings with two rooms in which dwell seven to nine people. There are approximately 5,500 dwellings having only one room in which dwell eight or nine people. There are at least 83,000 dwellings that have dirt floors with about five inhabitants each on average. There are about 29,000 dwellings where the people get their water out of a ditch. About 131,000 dwellings have no sewer and another 20,000 have no electricity. It is important to note that I am talking about only one state, Guanajuato, the so called “Cradle of Mexican Independence”. México has 31 states plus a federal district that contains México City which by itself has a population of over twenty million.
It is no wonder that for the first half of 2007 the state of Guanajuato alone registered 167 suicides. The majority of the suicides are by hanging. The people climb up into a small tree with a bit of scavenged twine or rope and loop one end around a branch and one end around their neck and simply and quietly fall backward into oblivion. I always cringe when I hear U.S. right wingers exclaim that the people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. How? They don’t even have shoes, much less boots. They wear plastic flips flops that cost a buck and a half that are made by poor people in China and shipped halfway around the world at a profit no less. What can be done about it? I just don’t know. All that I can tell you is that is very sad and that it shouldn’t be.